Amid a presidential campaign that has been marred by scandal, conspiracy theories, and the spectre of a new far-right leader, disillusioned French voters have called for an outsider to join the race: Barack Obama.
A petition launched on Monday calls on the former US president to run in this year’s French elections, which will be held in April and May. Called Obama17, the petition aims to garner 1 million signatures by March 15th, and as of Friday morning, it had already gained 30,000, according to one of the people behind the effort. But even the people who launched the website acknowledge that the chances of Obama actually ascending to the Elysée Palace are virtually zero. French law requires presidential candidates to be French, which Obama is not.
But the impossibility of the campaign is also what inspired it. In a phone interview Thursday night, one of the people behind the petition, who asked only to be identified as “Antoine,” said he and three other friends decided to create the site out of frustration with France’s leading candidates and the campaigns they’ve run so far.
“In a campaign where we only talk about the scandals of [center-right candidate François] Fillon or the rise of [far-right candidate Marine] Le Pen, at a certain moment we told ourselves well, why not?” Antoine said. “We just wanted to say that we’ve had enough of all of these guys.”
Antoine, who is in his 30s, says that he and his friends are not activists, and he doesn’t align himself with a particular political party. But he says he has grown tired of voting for the lesser of two evils in every presidential race, rather than a candidate who inspires genuine enthusiasm. “The only guy who’s ever made me feel that way is Obama,” he says. This week, he and his friends plastered some 500 Obama posters across Paris, each carrying the slogan: “Oui on peut” (“Yes we can”).
Antoine isn’t the first French voter to call for an Obama presidency; similar petitions were launched last year, as NPR notes. And although Antoine realizes that it may be a long time before France changes its citizenship requirement for presidents, he thinks it’s important to at least put forth the idea of a more globalized government — particularly given the nationalist, inward-looking rhetoric that has characterized Le Pen’s campaign.
“At a time when Amazon and Facebook and Apple are richer than our country, it’s stupid to think that it’s our nationalism that will make us better governed,” he says. “We would do better to pay people who are competent to fill important positions, rather than getting stuck with the same people we’ve had for 20 years.”
“The reality, of course, is that it will never happen,” he adds. “But in another world, in 100 years or 200 years, it may not be a problem.”